It was the week before the Whiteside County Fair. One-year-old Gabe was finally down for his afternoon nap and my three older boys, 14-year-old Logan, 10-year-old Grant and four-year-old Samuel, were spread out in the living room, working on their drawings, paintings and collages for the hobby contests. Entering was a family tradition and the three of them were dreaming of shiny blue ribbons.
I would’ve been too—after all, my chocolate chip cookies had won first place two years running. But this year the boys had signed up for five projects. Each. I was totally exhausted, my neck tight with tension. My only prayer was to get through this week.
The front door opened. My husband, Lonny, kicked off his boots. “Looks like Project Central in here!” he said, then turned to me. “How come I don’t smell your chocolate chip cookies? Don’t you usually have us taste test a batch?”
“I’m not making them this year,” I replied, collapsing into a chair.
“I know how tired you must be, especially with the baby. But no cookies? Shawnelle, you’re the Chocolate Chip Cookie Queen. You have to make them.”
“There’s too much to do. We’ll be lucky to get the boys’ projects finished in time,” I said.
Lonny gave me a long look. “Well, then, I’m going to bake them and claim your blue ribbon.”
“Like it’s that easy,” I said. Lonny couldn’t be serious. He’d never baked a thing!
He shrugged. “Can’t be too hard.”
“You don’t have the recipe,” I said.
“I have my own,” Lonny replied.
“I changed my mind,” I said. “I’m entering too.”
“Are you sure about that? You’ll have some competition.”
“Bring it on,” I said.
A few evenings later Lonny got home from work and announced, “Time to bake my cookies!” The boys ran to the kitchen. I did too. Canisters, measuring cups and mixing bowls cluttered the counter. A cookbook was open to a page with “Blue Ribbon Cookies” across the top.
“This recipe calls for three helpers,” Lonny said.
“Oh, no, Dad, we’re not helping you take Mom’s ribbon,” Grant said. “Besides, only she has the right recipe.”
“Yeah,” Logan added. “We just came to watch.”
I leaned in the doorway and hid a smile. “That’s okay,” Lonny said. “Let’s see. Step One: Massage two sticks of butter.” He hummed as he kneaded the wrapped bars. The boys giggled.
“Step two, add three eggs…but only after you spin each one like a top,” he said, handing one to each boy. They cleared part of the counter and spun their eggs. So much for them helping!
“Careful,” I said. “You’ll make a mess.”
“You just stay back there,” Lonny said. “I don’t want you stealing my secrets.”
I laughed as I left the kitchen. And I couldn’t help laughing again that night when I baked my batch of cookies. Thinking of Lonny’s antics melted away the tension. I even had enough energy to help the boys wrap up their projects.
Then it was fair day. The Ferris wheel turned lazily in the blue sky. The air was sweet with the scent of funnel cakes. Vendors bellowed. Lonny and I walked down the dusty midway, the boys ahead of us, comparing the ribbons they’d won earlier that morning. We finally reached the blue-and-white pole barn where the baked goods were judged. Rows of lattice-topped pies, frosted cakes and brown breads were on display.
The boys rushed to the cookies. I saw my batch. They were right out front. And decorated with a first-place ribbon! I scanned the rows for Lonny’s cookies. They were in the back. No ribbon.
“You won, Mom!” The boys wrapped me in hugs. Then Grant said, “Dad, I’m sorry you didn’t get the blue ribbon. I know how hard you worked.”
“It’s okay,” Lonny said. “I got just what I wanted. Look at the smile on your mom’s face.”
I reached for Lonny’s hand as we strolled back down the midway. The shiny blue ribbon was nice, but I knew I’d already been given the best prize. The real prize. A husband who truly understands what I need, sometimes even better than I do.